BLACKSBURG – Delroy James scored 18 points and Lamonte Ulmer added 13 to lead Rhode Island past Virginia Tech 79-72 in an NIT quarterfinal game played Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum.
With the loss, the Hokies finished with a 25-9 overall mark, which ties for the most wins in a single season in school history (1994-95 team). Tech lost for just the third time in an NIT game at Cassell Coliseum and lost at home for just the second time this season.
Rhode Island, the second seed, moved to 26-9 and advanced to the NIT semifinals for the first time since 1946. They'll play defending national champion North Carolina on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m very proud of what they accomplished this year, but I’m extremely disappointed,” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “I can deal with losing if it’s playing the right way. I don’t think we played the right way the last 15 minutes.”
Tech led 60-48 following two Malcolm Delaney free throws with 14:43 left that capped an 18-8 run to start the second half. But Rhode Island answered with a 13-0 run of its own and took a 61-60 lead with 11:05 on a basket by Ulmer.
The Rams took the lead for good at 73-71 on a jumper by Keith Cothran with 2 minutes left. Tech had a chance to tie, but James got a piece of JT Thompson’s layup attempt with 46 seconds to go and grabbed the rebound.
The Rams then spread the court, and with the shot clock running down, Ulmer rebounded his own miss and laid it in with 10.6 seconds remaining to give the Rams a 75-71 lead.
“We were isolating and he [Ulmer] was just real aggressive,” Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said. “He attacked the bucket, and the funny part it about was I told the guys in practice that they were going to have to use the rim as a protector by going up and under. Sure enough, Lamonte made a great play by going up and under.”
Delaney hit one of two free throws with 6.9 seconds left to cut it to 75-72. The Hokies then fouled Rhode Island guard Stevie Mejia with 5.8 seconds remaining and Mejia made both to give the Rams a 77-72 lead. A Dorenzo Hudson turnover led to a Jeff Allen foul of Will Martell with 4.5 seconds left, and Martell sank both free throws to account for the final margin.
“We weren’t as poised as well as we had been down the stretch,” Greenberg said. “As well as we executed the other night [against Connecticut], we didn’t down the stretch tonight.”
James, who scored a career-high 34 points in Rhode Island’s second-round win over Nevada, hit 7 of 18 from the floor. He also blocked four shots and grabbed six rebounds.
Delaney had 24 points for the Hokies, and Hudson added 19. Delaney hit 5 of 17 from the floor, but made 12 of 13 from the free-throw line. Hudson hit 8 of 16 from the floor.
The Hokies, who came up one victory short of setting the school’s single-season record, shot better from the floor than the Rams, hitting 48.1 percent (26 of 54) compared to 46.7 percent (28 of 60). But Tech made just two of its final 17 shots.
“We went cold,” Delaney said. “They made their run at the right time. We just missed shots. I’m sure they played good defense, but we just missed shots.”
“We’ve had different guys step up on different nights and help us win,” Greenberg said. “But we just didn’t do those things that we normally do. I don’t know if it was the stage or if it was pressure. There are so many factors that go into it. I’m just real disappointed.”
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